Eight Ends is your weekly source for news, notes, insight, and analysis from around the curling world.
The 2019 Canada Cup is on the horizon, so what better time than now to power rank the teams that will be competing in the tournament taking place Nov. 27 to Dec. 1 in Leduc, Alta.
A task such as this is no easy feat, so we’ve called upon Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling MC and analyst Pete Steski to share his thoughts as well. Let’s start with a rundown of the women’s division.
1st End: Team Kerri Einarson
They’re ranked No. 1 in the world for a reason with title wins at the Booster Juice Shoot-Out in Edmonton and the Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Curling Classic in Calgary this year. Hmm, good things seem to come to this team in Alberta and the Canada Cup is taking place in Leduc after all. Einarson, who captured the Players’ Championship last season, is also coming off a resilient runner-up result at the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge in Pictou County, N.S., battling out of the tiebreakers.
Steski says: They’ve taken everything they did last year at the end of the year and only continued to improve. They went through a patch there a few months where they did really, really well but it just didn’t trigger anything. Now they’re at a point where they expect when they come to these big events it’s given that they’re going to qualify and they expect to be in the final playing. I don’t know why it would be any different at the Canada Cup.
2nd End: Team Tracy Fleury
The reigning Manitoba champions have been off to a fast and Fleury-ous start to the season competing in eight events already, beginning in early August, and qualifying for the playoffs in all of them. They were in mid-season form when other teams were just hitting the ice. Fleury captured her first career GSOC title at the Masters in North Bay, Ont. They hold a 37-14 record, adding runner-up finishes at the Shorty Jenkins Classic in Cornwall, Ont., and the Colonial Square Ladies Classic in Saskatoon. More impressive though is their 9-3 mark in the GSOC.
Steski says: You look at their results, they can’t be ignored. … I think they’re the most consistent team on tour and their ceiling just continues to get higher and higher. … That just shows how solid they are but the fact that they’ve won a Slam now and are making the finals of these other spiels against the best teams in the world shows that they’re as good as they seem now. Before they were probably happy if they qualified in one of every two Slams. Now they’ve shown up and 9-3 at the Slams is incredible.
3rd End: Team Jennifer Jones
The defending Canada Cup champions kicked off this season claiming the Shorty Jenkins Classic. Quarterfinals have given them a bit of trouble as of late in the GSOC. Stretching back to last season, they’ve qualified at the past four events in the series but haven’t picked up any playoff wins.
Steski says: They’ve shown signs. Winning Shorty was big for them and they’ve qualified in most Slams but there’s just something a little off. I feel like they’re ready to break through but they would have been heavily favoured in both of their quarterfinals in the Slams, and they’d be the first to tell you that, and they lost both. It’s funny, usually the deeper Jenn goes into a spiel, the better she gets so to get over that quarterfinal hurdle, who knows they could have won. Being the defending champion, she will not be easy to beat. She’s always played extremely well in any Curling Canada event as witnessed by her six Canadian titles. I think she’ll be in the mix.
4th End: Team Rachel Homan
Homan has captured the Colonial Square Ladies Classic and finished runner-up at Canad Inns Women’s Classic in Portage la Prairie, Man., this season. It’s their 3-6 GSOC record that has us puzzled as they missed the playoffs in both the Masters and KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge. However, Homan is a big-time player with a record 10 GSOC women’s titles including three in a row last season.
Steski says: I still think when Rachel is at her best is the best. Her results early in the year, they won Saskatoon, semi at the Shorty, runner-up in Portage, she just hasn’t found her way at the Slams, which is very unusual. People like to write her off like after the Olympics she was never going to win anything ever again and then last year she had a historic Grand Slam run. As much as she’d be the third or fourth-best in Canada right now based on year to date, when she plays to her potential she’s favoured to win the bonspiel. … She’s just too good. They all are. When they put it all together, it’s really hard to beat them. They have weapons that other teams don’t have.
5th End: Team Chelsea Carey
The reigning Canadian women’s champions have posted a pair of runner-up results this season at the Booster Juice Shoot-Out and Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic (Vernon, B.C.) They’re 18-13 on the season but 1-7 in the GSOC.
Steski says: Always does better in Curling Canada events than she does in tour events as witnessed again with her two Scotties titles. … To me, they’re really going to have to raise their game to the level when they’re playing in the Scotties. … If she could win her first two games of the round-robin, she rides momentum really well. That’s what happened last year. She steamrolled through the round-robin at the Scotties and finished first overall. … If Chelsea can get a couple of wins under her belt early, she will be a factor. If she starts 0-2 or 1-2, I think it’ll be really tough for her to be a threat.
6th End: Team Casey Scheidegger
We haven’t seen the real Team Scheidegger so far this season as their skip has been absent while expecting her second child. If we were handing out report cards (and since Scheidegger is a school teacher, she’ll understand) we’d have to give her team an incomplete grade. Amber Holland skipped the squad at the first couple of Grand Slams, missing both playoffs, but Cheryl Bernard takes over for the next stretch. The 2010 Olympic silver medallist Bernard filled in earlier this season pushing Team Scheidegger to a runner-up finish in the Autumn Gold.
Steski says: I think Scheidegger would be a great wild-card pick if she was playing. It’s really hard to curl at this level, it’s got to be twice as hard to curl or 10 times as hard without your skip. … They’d be an extreme dark horse and it’d be a great story … but again it’s really hard to fill in and jump in at this level. It’s been a long time since Cheryl has played at this level. Obviously, they’ve got a bit of an uphill climb.
Steski’s keys to success: Bernard adapting to the larger striking bands and how lively the rocks are as well as employing as much gear effect as possible.
7th End: Team Robyn Silvernagle
Silvernagle is in a bit of a slump with only one playoff appearance this season coming at the start of the year at the Booster Juice Shoot-Out. They’re the only squad entering the event with a sub .500 record sitting at 12-14.
Steski says: It’s almost like a sophomore jinx for them. Last year they were the breakthrough team probably you could argue on tour because of what they did in the Slams and then obviously a bronze medal at the Scotties. No one knew who they were last year and now people know, people are a little bit more prepared to beat them. A lot of teams have done this where they’ve done really well, then take a couple of steps back and then they’ll regroup. They’d be my longshot of the week to win it just based on how this year has gone so far. The talent is there but the results are certainly not what they would’ve been hoping for.
8th End: Final thoughts
So, who will come out on top? Any of the top four are capable of winning it, but even ranking Team Homan at No. 4 entering the event, it’s just too hard to bet against them. As Steski said, when they’re on their game they’re at a whole other level. Einarson’s success on the season and carrying some momentum puts them immediately in the title picture, too. Fleury has wins in the GSOC this year over both Homan and Einarson and are looking like the real deal.
Stay tuned as next time we’ll power rank the men’s teams. Why wait? Well, six of the seven Canada Cup men’s teams are competing this weekend at the Ashley HomeStore Curling Classic in Penticton, B.C., and results there could shuffle things around.